January 8, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The impunity is the point
Don’t get hung up on hypocrisy.
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The Republicans on two House committees are preparing a resolution to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of the Congress, according to NBC News. The panels had wanted the president’s son to testify in a private session. Fearing leaks intended to smear his dad, he refused. Instead, Hunter Biden offered to testify in a public hearing. The Republicans said no. Now they are set to hold him in contempt. A contempt vote would be the latest step in the Republicans’ larger goal of impeaching the president.
This is important to point out due to pundit chatter that I heard last week. Altogether, it suggested that the GOP might drop their bid for impeachment. For months, they alleged that Joe Biden benefited from his son’s business dealings with foreign nations, particularly China. But last week saw the release of a report by the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee. It alleged that Donald Trump “unconstitutionally profited from the presidency … reaping millions of dollars for his business empire from foreign governments,” according to USA Today.
The Republicans are saying, in effect, that bribes for Joe Biden are bad. They are worthy of punishment (ie, impeachment and worse). But bribes for Donald Trump are OK. They are unworthy of even our attention. The Republicans are saying, moreover, that Trump should be immune to the normal rules that govern democratic politics, including the US Constitution. They are saying that impunity is the point.
The pundit chatter that I heard last week suggested, generally, that the report was so damning that the Republicans wouldn’t move forward with their impeachment for fear of looking like hypocrites. For months, they had alleged without evidence that “the Biden family” is in the habit of taking foreign bribes, particularly from China. Now we have the evidence, but it’s not against Biden. It’s against Trump. It comes from his own accounting firm! It shows that his businesses receive nearly $8 million in foreign payments from countries that had a stake in his policy decisions when president. And most of the money came from China!
But in moving forward with a resolution to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of the Congress, the House Republicans show no sign of letting up on their efforts to impeach the president. They show no sign of allowing hypocrisy to get in the way of their objectives. Indeed, hypocrisy may not be the impediment that members of the chattering class often assume that it is. Hypocrisy might even be an asset!
Think about it. The Republicans are saying, in effect, that bribes for Joe Biden are bad. They are worthy of punishment (ie, impeachment and worse). But bribes for Donald Trump are OK. They are unworthy of even our attention. The Republicans are saying, moreover, that Trump should be immune to the normal rules that govern democratic politics, including the Constitution. They are saying that impunity is the point.
That impunity is the point of rightwing politics can be seen in last week’s decision by the US Supreme Court to hear the question of whether Donald Trump is an insurrectionist. The Colorado Supreme Court, applying a plain-English interpretation of the US Constitution’s 14th amendment, said that he’s disqualified by his role in leading an attempted paramilitary takeover of the US government on January 6, 2021. (Maine’s top election official came to the same conclusion.)
While I think there’s a slim chance that the high court won’t decide until after the election, most legal scholars and court watchers expect it to overrule Colorado and Maine (and any future official or court ruling). They expect its rightwing supermajority to find a way of reading the Constitution so that Trump is immune to its restrictions against traitors. The consensus view appears to be that it will decide that Trump must be convicted of a crime first or that the 14th Amendment applies only to current office holders, not former ones.
So the court is expected to find a way of reading the normal rules that govern democratic politics, in this case the Constitution’s prohibition against traitors holding power, so that the traitor most responsible for the J6 insurrection is immune to those very same rules. With such a ruling, Trump will campaign as if he’s already been elected, and he will no doubt foment another movement of violence when he isn’t. If you take away nothing else from the certainty that Trump won’t accept the results of the election, it should be this: The impunity is the point.
The Republicans are saying that impunity is the point, but alas, few of us seem to be listening to them. As I said, the pundit chatter that I was hearing last week seemed to be stuck on the idea that the Republicans would drop their effort to impeach the president on bribery grounds, because it now looks like Donald Trump took a few bribes of his own. That would be just too hypocritical, the thinking goes. So it would be, but that doesn’t matter to a candidate and a party that seeks, more than anything else, to maintain a place in society that’s above the rules.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.